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New Cambridge train wash to be built but concern work will take place over Christmas



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Artist's impression of the train wash (43411057)
Artist's impression of the train wash (43411057)

A controversial train wash will be built in central Cambridge after the city council’s planning committee approved plans for a building to house the facility.

The train wash is planned for a site adjacent to the main railway line and behind a row of houses on Great Eastern Street.

The application was submitted by Network Rail, and the wider project in the area which includes the train wash is being managed by Govia Thameslink Railway.

A residents’ campaign group, Quash the Train Wash, has challenged Network Rail’s right to proceed since first finding out about the plans about a year ago.

Building on railway land is not subject to the usual planning processes and constraints of the city council owing to government legislation. Cambridge City Council’s planning committee heard on Wednesday (December 2) that the train wash itself does not require approval from the council, but that the enclosure surrounding it required “prior approval” – a form of planning consent which considerably limits the scope in which the council can constrain or reject an application.

According to the plans the building will be 34 metres in length, seven metres wide, and 8.5 metres high.

Cllr Dave Baigent told the committee residents were “stuck between a rock and a hard place here”.

He said: “If this committee turns down this building, then it’s likely, according to the planning officer and what we know, that the train wash will still go in there, but the noise will be unlimited and so will the pollution”.

A prominent member of the residents’ campaign group, Sean Rintel, said: “An industrial facility does not belong in a residential area. It doesn’t belong there. There was more appropriate land at Cambridge North despite what the applicant has said”.

Mr Rintel said the inclusion of a train wash close to people’s homes was “largely obfuscated” when related plans were approved in 2018.

Drawing attention to the impact the building will have on the lives of residents, he said: “We are being asked to accept continuous noise, vibration and chemical output, plus the visual blight”.

He said the train wash would be “just metres” from the back fences of homes on the street and that it is due to be at its busiest in the “antisocial” hours between 3.30am and 6am.

Another nearby resident, Fahad Aldiwan, said he had “accepted that this is going to be built,” but said if the railway companies are going to live up to their pledge to be “good neighbours” then the train wash should not run 24 hours a day.

“We just want as much mitigation as possible,” he said.

A council planning officer said the train wash would result in a “potentially adverse noise impact on residents of Great Eastern Street”. And they said the main times of operation are “likely” to be between 6:30pm and 6am.

A number of councillors expressed frustration with the plans and the limited options available to enforce alternatives.

Chair of the committee, councillor Martin Smart, said: “There are thousands of miles of track. I can’t quite see why it needs to go here right next to residents’ gardens”.

Councillor Gerri Bird criticised plans for construction over the Christmas period, saying “to me that’s wrong – let the residents have some peace over Christmas”.

Cllr Baigent accused the railway companies of having “played the system here”.

He repeated a criticism that he has previously levelled at GTR and Network Rail, that they are acting like a “bully,” and said he felt “disgust” at the way the process has played out.

No representatives from Network Rail or GTR spoke at the virtual meeting.

The planning committee was limited to assessing the “location and the design and external appearance of the development and whether the proposal would injure the amenity of the neighbourhood and is reasonably capable of modification to avoid such injury”.

The prior approval application was passed, subject to conditions, by six votes to two abstentions.

One condition placed on the application requires Network Rail to provide a detailed noise mitigation scheme to mitigate the noise emanating from the building.

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